What would the founders have read?
Does literature matter for politics and law? In the eighteenth century, the answer to this question was a resounding affirmative. In the twenty-first century, historically minded scholars and students of constitutional law must include literary works as among the inputs that shaped the American founders' ideas about government and society. The founders were voracious readers -- not only of theoretical tracts, but also of novels, such as Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy and Oliver Goldsmith's Vicar of Wakefield. Reading those novels today can offer insights into early American thought, giving us a sense of the cultural milieu in which the members of the founding generation operated as well as a broader array of primary sources for understanding what their ideas meant to them. In an essay for Common-place, an online journal of early American history and culture, I argue that "[i]n order to begin to answer the lawyer’s question of what the founders thought about a given issue, we need first to answer the historian’s question of how personal stories, beliefs, and external social and political conditions combined to create those thoughts":